Maria T. Chao, DrPH, MPA

Associate Professor of Medicine, UCSF
Associate Director for Health Equity and Diversity, Osher Center
Associate Director of Research, Osher Center


Maria T. Chao’s overarching research aim is to investigate how complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can improve quality of life among underserved populations negatively impacted by health disparities. Improving health outcomes among the underserved and eliminating health disparities are among the nation’s public health priorities. Integrative medicine has the potential to uniquely contribute to efforts to reduce health disparities through innovative approaches to conditions such as pain that adversely impact quality of life and are often undertreated among the medically underserved.

Maria_The_DoctorsWatch Dr. Chao discuss her vitamin K acupoint injection research on The Doctors.

She is specifically interested in investigating acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy in community and safety net settings that provide healthcare for diverse, low-income, vulnerable populations living with chronic conditions. She is involved with a collaborative study using principles of community-based participatory research to evaluate access, economic feasibility, and outcomes of community acupuncture clinics. In addition, she was recently awarded a K01 Mentored Career Development Award from NIH/NCCAM. She will be working closely with Drs. Rick Hecht and Dean Schillinger to design, implement, and evaluate a group-based acupuncture intervention to improve quality of life among underserved patients with painful diabetic neuropathy at the San Francisco General Hospital, an urban safety net hospital. Group acupuncture may provide a viable model for improving quality of life among underserved diabetes populations that can be implemented in safety net hospitals and other settings.

One focus of her current research is to study the effectiveness of CAM therapies for various pain conditions. Chronic pain affects over 50 million Americans per year and often co-occurs with other disease conditions. Standard pharmaceutical treatments for pain have limited effectiveness and often have side effects. Not surprisingly, pain relief is the most common reason why people use CAM. She is conducting a pilot study on the efficacy and acceptability of an innovative treatment involving vitamin K injection in an acupuncture point to relieve painful menstrual cramps. She is also collaborating with Drs. Abercrombie and Duncan to assess the Centering Model of group care as a potential strategy to provide comprehensive treatment for chronic pelvic pain patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

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